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South Australia offers to host truck charging trial

SA Premier Jay Weatherill looks to mass-distance-location scheme


Trucks should be charged based on where they travel and the weight they are carrying, according to South Australia’s premier, who has offered to trial the scheme before it is introduced.

Jay Weatherill fronted the National Press Club with a bold proposal to reshape heavy vehicle charges to ensure road funding keeps pace with community needs and expectations.

Weatherill says it is getting harder for governments to fund projects from general tax revenue and that billing trucks individually based on mass, distance and location could alleviate cost pressures.

“I therefore propose that we establish a national heavy vehicle road-user charging system run by the Commonwealth,” he says.

“Under this plan, state-based registration and federal-based fuel excise charges are replaced by a charging system based on mass, distance and location (MDL) — a system that reflects actual use of the road network.”

Weatherill sees the Federal Government then reinvesting the revenue into road infrastructure.

“In order to fully explore and test this proposition, South Australia would be willing to trial different elements of heavy vehicle road-user charging,” he says.

“The intelligence and data we collect across our state would then inform the introduction of a national charging scheme.

“Such a scheme has the potential to result in better roads, with users paying for the roads they’re actually using and the roads that can support higher-productivity freight vehicles.”

The now disbanded Heavy Vehicle Charging and Investment (HVCI) group recommended MDL for trucks, but the country’s transport ministers would not support the measure.

At this year’s Trucking Australia conference, National Transport Commission (NTC) CEO Paul Retter warned that Australia faced a “looming crisis” if it did not overhaul the existing road pricing structure.

In comments similar to Weatherill’s, Retter told the conference funding constraints were hampering road infrastructure investment.

There is support within the Federal Government for MDL, which was proposed in a recent review of Australia’s competition policy framework.

MDL supporters have a task ahead of them to convince the trucking industry about the merits of the scheme.

But in his speech at the Press Club, Weatherill touted MDL as the answer to funding road projects.

“It’s getting harder for governments to meet the demands of road users from general taxation revenue, and roads remain a sector that relies heavily on taxpayers to fund new projects,” he says.

“My plan has the potential to reduce pressure on government budgets, as the efficient use of revenue from user charges would cut the cost to taxpayers of the construction and maintenance of roads.”

Weatherill also echoed the thoughts of the rail freight sector, which believes the existing charging framework advantages the trucking industry.

“This initiative would also put rail and road on a more even playing field, which would encourage more efficient allocation of the freight effort between road and rail,” he says.

Weatherill’s MDL proposal was one of four reforms he advocated, with the others covering education, health and housing.

He also called for greater cooperation between governments and for the states and territories to have more of a say on important policy areas.

“Now is the time for all government leaders to put aside ideological differences and forget about petty point scoring,” he says.

“It is now time to start a serious and constructive conversation about the society we want and the new economy we must have.”

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